Controversy Over Therapy For ‘Curing’ Homosexuals

Orthodox scientists’ group cancels, then reinstates, speaker on ‘reparative’ treatment as video surfaces.

07/27/10
Staff Writer
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A controversial treatment that is supposed to “cure” gays of their same-sex feelings — which has credence in parts of the Orthodox community — took another step toward respectability this week when it received apparent approval from a group of Orthodox scientists.

A recently posted YouTube video of two young Orthodox-raised men who complain of psychological abuse at the hands of a “reparative therapy” practitioner originally played a role in causing the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists to cancel the appearance last weekend of Arthur Goldberg, a leading advocate of reparative therapy, at the organization’s annual convention.

But, in a sudden reversal, the AOJS let Goldberg speak, in the convention’s final session on Sunday. Goldberg’s views apparently were not challenged — either from members of a hastily arranged panel or from the more than 100 people in the audience. And no mention was made of the contents of the video.

In the video, posted on YouTube two weeks ago by the gay activist group Truthwinsout.org, Ben Unger and Chaim Levin allege that Alan Downing, a “life coach” who serves as a therapist for JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality), had them remove their clothes in front of a mirror — with Downing standing behind them — as part of therapy to change from gay to straight. Levin also states that Downing encouraged him to touch his own genitals “to increase my masculinity.”

Downing denied the allegations but did not offer an explanation of exactly what took place during the sessions.

Unger, who says he spent two years with JONAH in an attempt “to ‘cure’ my homosexuality,” states that Goldberg had assured him that “we can turn you from gay to straight.” Downing is the only therapist mentioned in the video.

A link to the “JONAH’s ‘Ex-Gay’ Psychological Striptease” video was included in e-mail messages to leaders of the AOJS in the days before the annual convention, warning them against including Goldberg’s presentation on JONAH.

The messages warned that Goldberg, founder and co-director of the Jersey City, N.J.-based organization, has a criminal background, has misled clients about the therapy’s effectiveness and has employed people who use practices that border on abuse.

In response, AOJS leaders held an emergency meeting at midnight Thursday night. The result was that the invitations to Goldberg, and to an Orthodox doctoral student who was to deliver a rebuttal to Goldberg’s presentation, were rescinded. But Goldberg, who unexpectedly showed up at the convention, in Southbury, Conn., was allowed to speak, at the urging of several convention attendees who were interested in his topic.

“We do not make [scheduling] decisions based on YouTube. Anybody can put anything on YouTube,” Dr. Elliot Udell, AOJS program chairman, said of the decision to let Goldberg speak.

To put his descriptions of JONAH’s work into a religious and scientific context, AOJS had Goldberg share the podium with three Orthodox men who have backgrounds in mental health fields and the sciences.

Goldberg gave “a pep talk — no statistics, no science, no [therapeutic] techniques,” said Rabbi Moshe Tendler, a former AOJS president who serves as the organization’s halachic adviser and spiritual guide. Goldberg, the rabbi said, cited supportive biblical verses and conducted a telephone interview with an anonymous male who identified himself as a satisfied client of JONAH.

AOJS was open to Goldberg’s views, Rabbi Tendler said, because Goldberg presented his work as based on the belief “that someone has the ability to repent and to change. Reparative therapy is known in our tradition as repentance or teshuvah.”

Rabbi Tendler said he never viewed the critical video or heard what was in it. Had he known of the charges that Goldberg sanctioned practices that “are against halacha … he would not have spoken,” Rabbi Tendler said.

JONAH has helped “thousands of men, women, spouses and families,” Goldberg told The Jewish Week in an e-mail interview. “Since we only work with those who have unwanted same-sex attractions, we prefer thinking of the work as helping someone strengthen their concept of self and change their sexual attractions. ‘Cured’ is an inappropriate term as it makes homosexual issues appear to be a sickness.”

Goldberg stood by Dowling’s technique as described by Levin and Unger in the YouTube video, saying, “The video misrepresents common therapeutic techniques used by many types of practitioners who work with men with body image wounds and shame; they are often very successful.”

At the conference, Goldberg received a polite reception, with many of the audience buying copies of his book, “Light in the Closet: Torah, Homosexuality, and the Power to Change,” after the speech, an AOJS official said.

An organization like JONAH that does not employ licensed mental health professionals “has no accountability,” and is not subject to any repercussions when professional standards are violated, said Erez iHarari, a doctoral student at Fordham University who was to give the rebuttal to Goldberg’s presentation.

Goldberg’s “unopposed” speech about JONAH was “bad science … and bad religion,” said Rabbi Steven Greenberg, author of “Wrestling with God & Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition” (University of Wisconsin Press, 2004), who did not attend the AOJS convention.

The first Orthodox rabbi to publicly identify himself as gay, Rabbi Greenberg says JONAH’s claims that therapy can eliminate homosexuality appeals to “Jews who would prefer to see it as a curable disease.”

The AOJS panel, seven months after a historic public forum at Yeshiva University that featured gay students and alumni from the school, is the latest sign of increased interest in the Orthodox community about homosexual Jews who seek to maintain their ties to their families and Judaism.

And the AOJS event raised questions: does a speech at a conference under Orthodox auspices indicate support for reparative therapy or its practitioners? Is the AOJS convention a sign that reparative therapy is gaining acceptance in the Orthodox community?

Most experts say it is not effective, many health care professionals say it can be harmful, and some Orthodox organizations support it.

“It hurts people,” Levin told The Jewish Week. The JONAH method of “therapy” is crazy … brainwashing … psychological abuse,” Unger said.

“Not only is it not going to work” — especially with individuals who have felt a same-sex attraction their entire life — “but it makes the person worse,” says Dr. Samuel Klagsbrun, a psychiatrist who often treats clients from the haredi community.

However, support for reparative therapy remains in parts of the haredi and Modern Orthodox communities.

The JONAH website includes recommendation from the Rabbinical Council of America, the central organization of Modern Orthodox rabbis, and from the Jerusalem branch of Aish HaTorah, a prominent outreach yeshiva.

Neither the RCA nor Aish HaTorah responded to a question from The Jewish Week about whether, in light of the new video, they still endorse JONAH.

“Some individuals … who are greatly troubled by homosexual desires and thoughts … turn to psychotherapists in the hopes that their feelings and desires can be modified,” said Rabbi Simcha Feuerman, president of Nefesh International, a network of Orthodox mental health professionals. “While not conclusive, there is some research to support certain modalities of therapy for some individuals.”

Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, a psychotherapist and executive vice president emeritus of the Orthodox Union, said he has “reached no conclusions” about the efficacy of reparative therapy. “I have spoken extensively to Orthodox or formerly Orthodox gays and lesbians,” the rabbi said in an e-mail message, “and have heard a range of attitudes, emotions and reports on therapeutic successes or failures.”

“Since 2000,” according to the JONAH website, “JONAH has provided resources, referrals, mentoring and coaching services, group support, Shabbatons, seminars and outreach to thousands of impacted individuals.”

The website does not offer a staff directory, but online articles and interviews with Levin and Unger do not refer to any JONAH therapist other than Downing.

According to the Truth Wins Out website, Goldberg was disbarred in New Jersey and sentenced to 18 months in prison in 1987 for investor fraud, and Downing is an “’ex-gay’ life coach … who admits he is still attracted to men.”

Downing, who declined to be interviewed, said in a statement: “Regarding the video recently posted by two men identifying themselves as former clients of mine, I deny the allegations of malicious intent that are made in this video. I also emphatically deny the falsehoods being promulgated by activists and commentators; their accusations are not true. I am deeply concerned about the use of these young men to advance a political agenda, and the impact this publicity will have on them. I plead with those who choose to use them in this way to put their well being ahead of political goals.”

Udell, the conference’s program chairman, said the organization was not aware of the controversy surrounding JONAH and reparative therapy when Goldberg approached it earlier this year, offering to speak.

The 60-year-old organization, which numbers several hundred scientists and physicians among its members, agreed to hear Goldberg because of interest in the homosexual issue, which has become increasingly visible in Orthodox circles in recent years.

Many Orthodox families whose children have spoken of homosexual feelings are referred to JONAH, which calls itself “the only Jewish-based organization specifically dealing with the healing of homosexuality,” Udell said. “A lot of rabbis [in yeshivot and day schools] have sent their students to JONAH. We feel it was important to air [JONAH’s] point of view.”

He and other AOJS leaders vetted JONAH by reading its website and speaking with people who said they were satisfied with their experiences as its clients, “but we didn’t realize it was going to be controversial.”

Goldberg’s appearance at the convention did not constitute AOJS support of JONAH, Udell said. “It wasn’t a scientific presentation,” hence did not require the standard of empirical proof that other speeches at a scientific gathering usually have. n

E-mail: steve@jewishweek.org

Last Update:

06/04/2012 - 17:11

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The founder of Jonah is a dishonest person. Check out an article about him.

http://www.exgaywatch.com/wp/2010/02/im-the-victim-convicted-felon-arthur-abba-goldberg-versus-the-world/

Those rabbis that support this group are putting a stumbling block before the blind. They are repackaging the notion that gays can be cured into straights. Even Dr. Abba Borowich, a psychiatrist who practiced reparative therapy for Orthodox homosexuals for nearly 30 years before concluding that this was an ineffective course of therapy which only increased suffering among his patients and their families

Actually they should be telling those who are anguished with same sex attractions that if they are willing they may be able to eliminate same sex sexual behavior, can marry (and should tell their prospective mates about this issue), have children, but continue with their same sex attractions.

I have tremendous sympathy for the person whose penchants are so strong that his acting on homosexual behavior becomes a question; it must be emotionally wrenching, and constantly so.

But it is curious that neither in Lipman’s article nor in the responses to it, a basic underpinning of Judaism that comes into play here has not been mentioned: the freedom to choose one’s actions.

Judaism insists that each of us has the option of succumbing to predispositions or to resist them. The strength of the pull in either direction (the "nekuda bechira") differs with each person, and the stronger the pull in the direction of making a mistake as defined by Jewish law, the greater the person and the reward due when that pull is resisted. Lo aleinu.

Well, there are other diseases being able to cope with them and see changes on individual, throught the 12 steps. People have the disease of Alcoholism, Overeating and it works for millions upon millions of people all over the world since 1939. This people aren't "cured" either, is latent their compulsion or addiction. They have groups for people with problems with sex too. I am not a maven in this subject and genetical anomalities aren't my forte either but doesn't mean I cannot have an opinion about it and if there is help: I am for it!...
You cannot "cure" people who are not "sick!" The attitude towards gay men and lesbians is sick and must change. Torah and piety are no excuse for homophobia!
Hi, I also know Arthur Goldberg and Elaine Berk, the two co-heads of JONAH. They have done heroic work in the face of many gay activists looking to demonize them. Of the comments above I think the most important is the third one, which looks into the science that gay groups have claimed. It does not hold up. Unfortunately, the American Psychological Association, as well as other like organizations, have been incredibly dishonest regarding the area of homosexuality. Go on the APA website and read what they have to say about homosexuality. Their statemnts have become politicized in the face of gay activisim from within the organizations, with the goal or reducing the stigmatization of homosexually oriented people. But they have sacrificied the actual science to do so. The dishonestly of the American Psychological Association is breathtaking. This has caused tremendous harm to people, especially young people. Many, many boys who have been sexually molested, or young men raped in prison, come to struggle with homosexual issues, thoughts and impulses. They suffered tremendous psychological trauma that helped enegender deep pyscho-sexual problems. But they were not born this way.They were not born "gay". And therapy can help them overcome these issues. I know it is hard to believe that professional organizations like the American Psychological Association would be so dishonest. So I encourage poeple on here to really delve into the science. One does not have to look too deeply to realize something is very amiss with the professional organizations that Americans and others have come to rely upon for supposedly scientific information. Delve into the science, the assertions, and the supposed logic. It isn't that hard. I think many will be truly amazed. (Name withheld here because of the politics involved) California
Whether homosexual tendencies are genetic or a learned behavior is irrelevant here. These two young men were raised in an isolated environment where conformity is prescribed, and where a comprehensive and objective set of resources is unavailable. The topic of sex and sexuality are especially taboo and censored in this community. These two young men in particular were clearly vulnerable, and the techniques employed in curing them of their homosexuality were applied in an unethical and damaging fashion. So many young boys and men suffer in silence – and those are perhaps the lucky ones, because those that DO speak are often shamed and shunned by family and community, creating additional burdens on those grappling with their minority and terribly misunderstood existence. Think about it for a minute…if you were a young Orthodox Jew struggling with same sex attractions, your options are a) live a life on the “down low” – that is, find sex at rest stops, bathroom stalls, and other dark and dirty places; b) turn to your family and community, subjecting yourself to the strong possibility of shaming reprimands and desperate pleas to keep silent and to change; c) leave everything you’ve ever known and struggle to survive on a Torah-centric background in a secular world. It’s ironic that the “A” in JONAH stands for alternatives – emphasis on the pluralizing of that word…what alternatives are there for teenage boys from Orthodox Jewish ghettos? What alternatives are being offered by JONAH? JONAH has a very narrow point of view, and therefore caters to the most desperate of folks. To those that believe homosexuality is a learned behavior, I say, being a halachicly observant Jew is also a learned behavior. No one is really “naturally” Jewish. So if there are aspects of Judaism that cause pain and suffering in one’s life, it makes sense that we might “unlearn” some of those teachings, whether we do so as individuals or as a collective. In other words, anything that is deemed unnatural (i.e. learned behaviors) deserves a greater degree of scrutiny, and that includes Jewish law. In response to the anonymous post made on 7/28…I don’t understand why this person raises the issue of HIV when the actual topic under debate is whether same sex attraction is a learned behavior and therefore able to be reversed. I want to acknowledge a degree of compassion that comes through in that post, but more importantly I want to point out that the rate of new HIV infections is probably highest among men who have sex with men that are on the down low. This subset is the most at risk, as they are living secret, double lives. For many of these men, the only outlet for gay sex is often in dark, clandestine locations, and the sexual encounters are typically anonymous. This same subset of men that have sex with men on the down low is less likely to seek out or have access to resources that teach safe sex, and are more likely to have their sense of self-worth be cut down by hateful and intolerant people. By extension, families of these men having sex on the down low are also at risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, as well as depression and a greater likelihood of drug abuse and suicide. Openly gay men have greater access and are more willing to take advantage of outside resources that teach safe sex and that provide a more robust network of mental health professionals…these are areas in which the Orthodox Jewish community is deficient, yet stubbornly holding onto inaccurate “science”, false hopes, and dogma. My own personal interactions with people that have turned to JONAH point to recruiting tactics that appeal to the most desperate and vulnerable. In many ways, JONAH even facilitates the very behavior they abhor by bringing gay Jewish men together for retreats…it is no surprise that these retreats are rife with sexual tension and plenty of opportunity to act on sexual desires, whether in sanctioned group activities or off on the side. Perhaps reparative therapy truly helps a person here and there…but the evidence available suggests that an exponentially higher number of individuals are being damaged. JONAH claims to have helped thousands of people, but no real evidence has been forthcoming, perhaps because these people are still living with a strong sense of shame. If JONAH wants to emerge from this scandal with any degree of legitimacy, it’s going to need to acknowledge its shortcoming and mistakes, and restructure its recruiting, screening and therapeutic tactics. And if JONAH believes that gay men can make a change for the better, that’s the least we can expect of JONAH.
I don't understand the opposition to men seeking therapy to overcoming unwanted homosexuality. In a secular society that values "live and let live," what's wrong with individuals pursuing this treatment? That's their choice. Thankfully, I have seen studies that show a positive impact on the overall well-being of men who sought therapy, and I also know a number of men who have benefited tremendously from this kind of work, in ways that reach far beyond its impact on sexuality. Aside from this: For Orthodox Jews, the Torah forbids homosexuality, and so I think it's great that rabbis and leaders in the community are given the opportunity to investigate and provide options to fellow Jews struggling with difficult challenges like this. Regarding the controversy around Mr. Levin and Mr. Unger: I am sorry these two men did not find what they were looking for. And, in fairness, I feel the claims of these two men are insufficient to establish a consensus perspective of a therapist who has likely worked with several hundred men over the years. I doubt there's any therapist who doesn't have a few disgruntled clients. It would be a diservice to Mr. Downing, JONAH, and those they work with to reject out of hand their work on that basis, particularly in light of how many they appear to have helped. Unfortunately, given the prejudices that exist against those who feel transformation is possible, it is unlikely many of their voices will be publicly heard.
As you all know I am one of the people who spoke out against JONAH in the recently published youtube video. I can imagine that for some of you that may discredit me, but suit yourselves. For those of you who think that reapairative therapy can work, I pose a question for you: Would any of YOU be willing to send any of your kids into a therapy that's only PROVEN to be harmful and ineffective? In fact, it hasn't been proven that it actually works! If the answer to this question is yes, then we obviously don't have much more to talk about, because if you choose to knowingly send your child into a dangerous therapeutic setting then it's pretty apparent that you have your own best interest in mind and not your child's. Do people like myself really need to suffer with shame, doubt, insecurity, emotional trauma AND exposure to sexual misconduct because of something that only some in this world view as a problem? Are any of you willing to sponsor these therapies and provide scholarships for those of us that can't afford the high fees that JONAH charges for their therapy? And then if after 5 years you draw the conclusion that it doesn't work, are you willing to try and make up for those lost 5 years? It seems as if everyone is so quick to judge, but you all know the famous saying of not judging your friend until you reach his level, please try to adhere to that a little more; you don't realize how it can effect people like me that actually had the guts to put myself out there all to prevent this abuse from happening to future generations. Sincerely, Chaim Levin
Chaim, I'm so sorry to hear about your troubles, I truly am. And I support whatever way you want to live your life. The only thing that's holding me back from truly believing your claim is your comment above when you wrote. "Would any of YOU be willing to send any of your kids into a therapy that's only PROVEN to be harmful and ineffective?" Can you please show some links or refer to the names of the studies so I can go a Google search, so I can see the "proof" you're speaking about? Please post them publicly over here so we can all see the science/evidence and really see first hand the results that you say "prove" the therapy is "harmful and ineffective." The person who responded in the third comment was kind enough to include a link, www.mygenes.co.nz, which shows all the twin studies and other studies that disprove that one is born this way. Of the 6 twin studies that I've seen, *none* of them prove that one is born gay. In fact, they all prove that one is *not* born this way. The 6 studies are all studies on identical twins. The study names are Bailey, Alanko, Santtila, Langstrom, Kendler, and Bearman studies. Chaim, I'm with you, I'm on your side, but I want to see the science that you talk about when you say, "Would any of YOU be willing to send any of your kids into a therapy that's only PROVEN to be harmful and ineffective?" Chaim, anyone can post a YouTube video as you did. But you're saying here that there is proof that the therapy does not work. Please show me the proof. I'm not requesting testimonials, because I'm sure I can get testimonials from "the other side" that say the therapy works. The "other side" has scientific studies that back their claim that one is not born this way. Please show me your side of the science. Thanks Chaim! Looking forward!
I know Arthur Abba Goldberg personally and am familiar with his work. I have advised him, when presenting, to present data. Unfortunately, there is little data on the successes of Reparative Therapy as it has not been sufficiently studied. Goldberg does have anecdotal evidence in the men and women JONAH has helped. I think we can all agree that Reparative Therapy deserves a Scientific Study to determine its efficacy in those with unwanted same-sex attraction.
This "reparative therapy" nonsense is sick, and it only hurts people, no matter how well intentioned. Being gay is not a disease--the APA figured that out almost 40 years ago. All they do at these insane homo-rehab camps is try to create negative pavlovian responses with same-sex attraction, while also trying to create positive associations with opposite-sex attraction (have straight sex, get a cookie! Have gay sex, get tazered!). It does. Not. Work. You can accept or reject LGBT people, but you cannot change them to make your own life more comfy. Can you change what flavors of ice cream you like and dislike, if your rabbi tells you that nice Jewish boys don't like that flavor?
When are you going to publish an article from people that have went through the process and wanted to commit suicide because the hope Jonah gave didn't come to fruition. I've seen too many people die, lose families, lose friends and went on to become drug and alcohol addicted because of the lack of acceptance. I urge you to be fair in your writing and not be so one sided. Thanks for reading this, Rich Dweck
i am one of "those" people.
This speech on contemporary halacha was very important for our day and age. If there is a chance that homosexuality is a learned behavior, and it can be changed, it is at least worth a try. I looked up some of the science Goldberg mentioned supporting the idea that one is not born gay and came upon a website (www.mygenes.co.nz) with all the references to the twin studies and other studies. After sifting through this website and reading through the studies, it became pretty clear to me that this is not a trait that someone is born with, and if so, and it's a learned behavior, it can be unlearned. The therapy should at least be given a try. At least for those who are in the closet and want to change and live a hetero life, they should have this opportunity available to them. Besides, a study by the Center for Disease Control in March 2010 found that "the rate of new HIV diagnoses among men who have sex with men (MSM) is more than 44 times that of other men and more than 40 times that of women." You can see this on the CDC website by using this link: http://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/Newsroom/msmpressrelease.html Why would anyone want to sanction someone to a life where their chances of getting HIV are 44 times more likely without at least being given a chance to change. It seems as if the therapy didn't work for these two patients, and they haven't really elaborated on why. But I have heard from others who it has worked for. There was even someone at the conference who spoke about his success with Jonah. I'd be interested to hear from someone what other factors make the therapy work for some people and maybe not for others. If someone wants to live a homosexual lifestyle, they should have every right to do so, but homosexuals, as it appears in this article, shouldn't be preventing others from having the options to change if they want to change. I'm not quite sure why the homosexual activists, like it appears Rabbi Steven Greenberg is, are so adamant about stopping even trying to help people to maybe change. Does he want them to become another statistic that the CDC can write about .... 44 times more likely to get HIV, wow ... that's heart wrenching.
“We do not make [scheduling] decisions based on YouTube. Anybody can put anything on YouTube,” Dr. Elliot Udell, AOJS program chairman -Dr Udell was given the numbers of both kids who claimed to be traumatized by the sexual misconduct of the JONAH therapists. He could have contacted them, met with them, or at least heard them out. Instead, he chose not to. Funny how he had the time to speak with someone who was "satisfied with their experience", but not time to call those who claimed that they were abused by JONAH. It doesn't sound very scientific to me. These are not 'anybody', these are two nineteen year old Orthodox Jewish boys; this was not 'anything' this was a claim that they felt pressured by a non-licenced 'life coach' to get naked and touch their genitalia' as he looked on. His response is insulting to any victim who ever speaks out. JONAH defends this naked touching therapy by unprofessionals as a "common therapeutic technique" used in body dismorphia. Could you imagine if after the RCA or your rabbi recommended that your daughter be sent to a Hallachicly endorsed therapeutic organization, she tells you that her male un-licensed 'therapist' pressured her into getting naked and touching her genitalia while he looked on?! You would be Outraged! Here Young Orthodox Gay Jews are pressured to strip and touch themselves in front of an unlicensed 'ex-gay' therapist...all endorsed by Orthodox Rabbis, the RCA and the Jewish Press....This is sick and disturbing. Not one Licenced therapist interviewed defended this particular practice of nudity and genitalia touching. It is Irresponsible, dangerous and certainly NOT scientific. Rabbis now must speak out against this behavior!
This is ridiculous. You can not " cure " nor change homosexuality.

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